August 2010 Archives

            Well, they used to say, "It's an ill wind that blows nobody good (although I suspect that the person who came up with that had never been caught downwind of our outhouse). Although he is not exactly one to look for the silver lining, the Ol' Bloviator is going to risk his credentials as what Spiro T.  Agnew once called a "nattering nabob of negativism" by suggesting that there may actually be an upside in this global warming business--at least if you are a thoroughly unreconstructed Yankee-hater. The O.B. does not fall in that category, of course, for he finds Yankees at least as amusing as they can be irritating. Take the great bed-bug panic currently paralyzing New York City.  For those of you who wouldn't  know one if it bit you on the hind parts--and believe me, it would like nothing better--here is the critter in question, better known  in the scientific community as bedbuggitus biteyourbutticus:

bed-bug-zoom.jpg

 

                Although these tiny but tenacious bastards were once largely confined to more tropical zones, in recent months, a flood of news reports, official investigations, and maybe a few "had-a-few-beers-too-many" revelations have conveyed the impression that the Big Apple is literally crawling with blood-thirsty little  boogers who regard a human's rear end much as you and I see a coconut cream pie. They also delight in biting where you can't scratch and consider every nook and crevice of your body, bed linens, sofa, luggage, and carpet the equivalent of a four-star resort, from which they can be next to impossible to evict. A reported infestation in the Bronx D.A.'s office should be evidence enough that these little bastards will go anywhere, even a building packed with lawyers.  If you need any further evidence that bed bugs are some bad rammer jammers, here it is, courtesy of my friend Al:

WARNING!  EXPLICIT SEXUAL CONTENT

All bedbugs mate by traumatic insemination. Because the female has no genital opening, the male pierces her abdomen with his hypodermic genitalia and ejaculates into the body cavity. Especially desperate males sometimes mistake other males for females and fatally wound the latter in the abdomen.

This is why supposedly unflappable New Yorkers are now not only flapping, but scratching and whining ad nauseam. The "ain't-gots," people who don't have bedbugs, are deathly afraid they'll get 'em and want nothing to do even with someone who knows someone who heard about someone who had 'em. The poor "had 'ems," meanwhile, are proverbial pariahs; no one aware of their infestation experiences will rent to them or visit their homes, much less allow their kids to come over for play dates. Promising personal relationships have been abandoned.  Let's just say that known "had 'ems" who have jobs get plenty of space around the copier or water cooler at work, and unless their skill set be truly extraordinary, those  unfortunate enough to be seeking employment may as well have "personal assistant to Chuck Manson" on their resumes.

Although nobody went around bragging about playing host to these devilish little creatures, the idea of making a bed-bug-free history a prerequisite for employment, friendship, or even casual acquaintance would have seemed laughable to rural-born southerners of earlier generations. Had you imposed such a requirement, the circumference of your circle of association  might have approximated that of the Atlanta chapter of the W. T. Sherman Fan Club.

To say the least, it's a might surprising to see all these sophisticated and supposedly intrepid NY'ers with their drawers in a knot over bedbugs. First of all, the evidence suggesting they might carry Hepatitis B or the plague isn't entirely conclusive. Likewise, it isn't as though New Yorkers haven't already been living in an environment awash with vermin. I've seen many a rat in Manhattan that could have easily intimidated our Doberman, and I have also bedded down in both hotels and private residences where the cockroaches were big enough to have their way with a good-sized turkey.

 It's not just our insects that have the Yankees in a tizzy. They can't handle our weather either. I was in Connecticut this summer when the temps hit the high 80s, and I've never heard such pissing and moaning. There were also a couple of evenings when (GASP!) there were not only thunderstorm warnings but some tornado sightings. I've never seen anything like it. Instead of baseball, every TV in every bar I visited (Surely a large enough sample to virtually guarantee immunity to challenge.) was tuned to the Weather Channel.

The thing is, these folks ain't seen nothing yet! That's right, coming soon to a high-rise near you: Kudzu, "the vine that ate the South." As the accompanying map shows, this voracious consumer of junk cars, abandoned barns and houses,  utility poles, and probably even an occasional slow-footed kid has found new terrain to conquer way up yonder above the Mason-Dixon line.

kudzu.jpg

    Strikingly, while balmier winters have beckoned kudzu northward, plant experts now contend that the spread of the world's most unrelenting vine is also contributing to global warming. If one follows this progression logically, it could mean that as higher temps make the northern climes more hospitable, parts of the South may actually become too warm for it. Frankly, I can't find much satisfaction in this prospect. I have always said I never wanted to live anywhere it was too cold for kudzu to grow, but Honey, even with all those generations of sweat-stained Georgia crackers dangling from my family tree, I ain't studying about taking up residence where it's too hot for it either.    

Realizing that my eternal whereabouts might well turn out to be such a place, however, I'm suddenly feeling a strong moral obligation to assist our Yankee brethren as they struggle with the Dixiefication of their living environment. First, let me say that if keeping bedbugs away is your primary concern, don't waste time spraying yourself with anthing containing DEET. Male bedbugs use that stuff for aftershave. Dousing yourself with turpentine might work, but be careful to move around a lot, lest you attract a colony of pine beetles. Regrettably, I can't be as helpful with the kudzu invasion, where the question is no longer one of "if" but simply "when." All I can say is that since the Empire State building is in grave danger of turning into a giant  phallic Chia pet, you Wall Streeters might be well-advised to secure a heavy position in goat futures. 

goats article_92170_large.jpg

 P.S.  Here's a tip for everybody,Yankee or otherwise. If you get a chance, go see the new Robert Duval movie, Get Low. It's a great film regardless of who you are or where you live.  O.B.

Obama Un-Mosqued!

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The Pew Foundation's new report  showing that not only do 18 percent of poll respondents believe Obama is a Muslim, but that the number is up from 11 percent in March 2009 should be both surprising and disturbing. In reality, though, it's simply the latter, and there's not exactly much upside in the fact that 47 percent of respondents in 2009 thought Obama was a Christian as compared to 34 percent today.  By the way of clarification, there is no info as to whether these responses reflect a distinction between a self-identified "professing" Christian and someone perceived as an actual "practicing" Christian on the basis of how he conducts himself.  This would clearly be a critical differentiation in these parts. In today's highly politicized religious climate, (or should that be religionized political climate?) anything from Obama's health care plan to his stance on abortion is sufficient to brand him an infidel in some circumstances.

 Strikingly, even among Democrats, fewer than half saw Obama as a Christian either. These opinions about the President's faith do show a somewhat partisan pattern in that more than a third of conservative Republicans now believe our First Dude is getting his marching orders from Mecca, although there's not much to cheer about for the Dems in figures showing the number of Independents who see him as a Muslim has risen from 10 to 18 percent since March 2009. 

            When asked how they learned that Obama was a follower of Islam, 60 percent cited the "media." The specific media source cited most often was television (16 percent), but given that the largest category (36 percent) is the rather vague "media or news," I'm suspicious that the 7 percent figure for those who got this info off the old Interweb is a tad low. Even if we factor out the web crazies and the rants and harangues of Sean Hannity and Rush "Make Mine 'Oxy," please," Limbaugh, we also have to realize that given the stunted attention spans of the dedicated denizens of Web-World, the take on a statement like "Barack Obama is obviously not a Muslim," depends primarily on whether the listener was able to stay tuned for the duration of a complete sentence.

            Moreover, as Slate columnist Jack Schaefer points out, regrettably enough, the Pew Poll failed to ask "If a Muslim bit you on the ass, would you be able to identify his religion?" Alluding to the 18 percent who believe Obama is a closet Islamic. Schaefer notes that the last time the Gallup people bothered to ask, precisely the same percentage of respondents thought that the sun revolved around the earth.  Of course, this raises the question of how many of the "birthers" who don't think Oby was born in the U.S. also don't realize Hawaii is a state. A year ago, a national poll  showed that more than a quarter of the 38 percent of Americans who either didn't believe Oby is really a U.S. native or are not sure also didn't  know Hawaii is a state or were not sure about it.

            In the end, of course, this really isn't about thinking or knowing anything. To fall back on a popular cliché these days, it's about the "willful suspension of disbelief," which let's face it, sounds a hell of a lot easier than confronting reality these days. No way our heroic chieftains who took us to war in Iraq could have been lying their asses off to justify the death, maiming, and enormous waste of money that has brought us to the point of scurrying our butts out just beyond the border so we can feign unawareness when the place falls to pieces over the next few months. Likewise, no way our intrepid captains of finance could have pulled off this enormous scam that has ruined so many lives and crippled so many public institutions. There has to be a conspiracy here, some secret sinister force that is working through its puppet in the White House to sell us out to Osama or to destroy us from within by forcing a socialist, one-world philosophy down our throats.

            This, of course, would be where our man. B.O. comes in. Clearly, I sympathize with him because of all the smears and innuendo and outright lies he has had to put up with. On the other hand, however, he asked for this job, and if he didn't see this coming, his naïveté exceeds even his prodigious intelligence. In some ways, this naïveté served him well during the campaign, for it made his optimism and commitment to making America whole again seem pure and refreshing. Once he put his hand on that Bible, however, he should have ditched the rose-colored glasses and notched back the grandiose idealism a little bit. The disturbing thing is, he still doesn't seem to get it, even after managing to shove through a health care reform program at a time when economic recovery was by far the dominant public concern, only to find that some dismiss his efforts as a total failure, while candidates for statewide offices assure voters that they will do their damnedest to block or limit the implementation of Obama Care in their jurisdictions.

            Obama's recent statements about the Islamic community center slated for construction near ground zero on 9/11 are a case in point. Whatever genuine matter of principle may led him to get involved in this, it amounted to an act of political self-mutilation that also did little to pretty up a Democratic party already in serious need of some cosmetic help.  On a philosophical level, Obama's defense of the right of a local Muslim group to erect this structure sounds perfectly appropriate in a country dedicated to religious freedom. However, if he felt compelled to weigh in on this, he might  have followed up on his vigorous defense of religious liberty with an equally spirited call for the folks behind this project to consider the sensitivity of this situation and ask themselves whether the real, substantive needs of the local Muslim community might not  be served just as well in another location. His remarks came after the aforementioned Pew survey, but it doesn't take much of a pundit to see that what he said won't exactly be turning any of these numbers around for him.

            It's not just a matter of his own numbers either. Has he forgotten all of those other Democrats farther down the ticket who are subject to the whims of the sovereign voter this fall? Their general prospects weren't all that bright to start with, and I doubt that he got many thank-you notes from them after he interjected himself into what is, for a Democrat, the mother of all political no-win situations.

            Here in Georgia, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes suddenly heard somebody calling him way down in Savannah when Oby made the ATL scene recently, and one can hardly blame him under the circumstances. To say that Barnes's Republican opponent, former Congressman Nathan Deal, left Washington with something of a cloud over his conduct while in office is a bit of an understatement. Hurricane Katrina would be more like it. Still, Mr. Prez, you might tell your lippy press secretary, Robert Gibbs (an Auburn guy--What can I say?), to put a sock in it when it comes to references to Mr. Deal's difficulties. Deal is itching to distract voters from a past more checkered than a NASCAR flag by trying to run against you rather than Roy Barnes. From what I'm seeing across the country, he ain't the only Republican thinking this way either. You may think that all of the people who believe you are a Muslim are idiots.  However, you should have long since realized from observing your colleagues in D.C. that idiots not only vote, but show a strong preference for their own kind when they do.

Number 1 at last! This calls for a beer!

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            Despite not just months but years of budget cuts and hints of more to come, the flagship institution of the University of Georgia System has won national recognition for its excellence. Unfortunately, this award reflects our prowess in drinking rather than thinking. "We're No. 1" when it comes to partying at least, according to the Princeton Review. This accolade represents the culmination of an upward trajectory. We claimed the #4 slot last year, but twelve months of committed beer-ponging, Jaeger-bombing, Jell-O-shooting, knee-walking and projectile puking have brought us our just due in a category where excess and success go hand in hand. Realistically, having our athletic director hauled in for drunk driving with a lap full of red panties probably didn't hurt our case either.

            Back in my day, when Playboy put us on a party-school pedestal all by ourselves because it seemed unfair to compare professionals to rank amateurs, we undergrads wore the ultimate party-school label as a badge of honor because, let's face it, it was the only badge anyone would give us.  Those were the days, of course, when we were known, and pretty much rightly so, for a student body thirsting not for knowledge but a good cold beer. This began to change even while I was still an undergrad here in the 1960s as major funding increases fueled faculty and library enhancement and enrichment. (The History Department faculty grew from eighteen to forty-four during my undergraduate tenure, 1965-69.) The coming of the Hope Scholarship Program in 1993 meant that Georgia high school students with a B average could attend any public institution in the state system tuition-free, and parents who once would have sent their kids off to the Ivies or snooty little liberal arts colleges outside the state or region had good reason to reconsider the University of Georgia, a reality reflected in a fifty-point rise in average freshman SAT scores in the first five years of Hope's existence (1993-98), Currently, the top 25 percent of UGA freshman scores average out to roughly the ninety-second percentile nationally. Clearly, we're not putting any serious heat on the likes of Harvard or Princeton yet, but none of these numbers seem to suggest the hard-partying capital of the academic world.

            Unfortunately, there are some numbers that do. To me, the most damning  of our Princeton Review rankings is not the number-one spot in overall party-hardiness (We're rubbing shoulders with some pretty good company there, including UT-Austin, Iowa, Wisconsin, etc.) but the number nine slot in the fewest hours per week devoted to studying category. The credibility of this  response comes through in the latest available figures showing that among incoming freshmen with Hope Scholarships in the fall of 2003, 27 percent had lost them (by failing to maintain a "B" average) after the first two semesters and less than 60 percent managed to graduate with  their Hope Schollys intact.

            There are still all sorts of possible contributing factors here, including grade inflation in high school, SAT score inflation, and the fruits of intensive SAT prep courses aimed at securing higher SAT scores than high school performance might predict. There is also the likelihood that as students have gotten better, professors have turned it up a notch. One thing's for sure, for students who have excelled at every turn in K-12 (or at least been told they have), things are supposed to come easy. Consequently, every September, about a month into the fall semester when the first exam rolls around, our student counselors are reportedly overrun with kids who received what may be their first-ever indication of inadequate performance in any aspect of their lives, academic or otherwise.

            The typical response isn't pretty.  Upset that that contemptible old fart Professor Bloviator has shown the temerity to give her a "C" on her first test, Suzy makes a beeline to drop his class, never considering that next week's biology exam might yield a result suggesting that perhaps she has punted the wrong course. Thanks to the damnably ubiquitous cell-phone glued to the side of Suzy's head, she has quite likely phoned Mom in tears, leading Mom, also in tears and with no apparent hesitation, to call Professor Bloviator and demand to know how he could treat her daughter--who got all "A's" in high school, by the way--so unfairly.  Scholar and gentleman that he is, Prof. B. will patiently inform Mom that it has long been his policy to speak only with the students themselves concerning their academic performance in his course. His rationale being, as he further explains, that he tries to treat his students as adults, since, after all, they are in college now. Mom is seldom satisfied with this response, of course.

            As I have said more than once, it seems pretty ironic that one of the big concerns back during my youth and young adulthood was how to narrow the "generation gap" with our parents. Today, I'd give anything if somebody would figure out how to get folks operating on the "Mom-as-Sis, Dad-as Bro'" parenting plan to establish a little distance with their offspring and quit trying to relive their own collegiate experiences through their kids'. Parents who fret more about Suzy getting into Chi-O than finding an academic major that will challenge and fulfill her or simply break into a sly grin when that fake I.D. slips out of her purse are a far bigger problem for Suzy than her innate capacity to do what it should take to earn a college degree. If there is one thing that today's bright, comfortable, middle-class young people don't need, it's further reinforcement of their sense of entitlement.

            This brings me to my annual review of my student evaluations attendant to kicking off my thirty-ninth year of college teaching. (This would explain comments like, "He seems more knowledgeable than others since he's about 20 years older than most other professors.") As with a number of recent classes, I noted this time there were also some complaints that I didn't use "PowerPoint." Since I use the computer to put up all the key terms we discuss during each class, along with maps, illustrations, etc., I was puzzled by this criticism until conversations with students led me to realize that by "PowerPoint" they meant simply putting up my notes as "bullet points" so that all they had to do was copy them off the screen rather than actually use their brains to interpret what I said in terms of its meaning and significance. Hence one student simply laid it out there that what she "liked least" about my course was "How we have to take our own notes."

            Actually, against my warnings but totally beyond my control, a great many students don't take their own notes at all but simply buy them from a local bookstore, which has employed someone in the class as a note-taker. I've seen these notes, and frankly, they're not bad. In fact, they sometimes make me seem almost coherent and even, dare I say, knowledgeable. The problem with store-bought notes and with simply putting my own notes up on PowerPoint is that going this route allows students to escape the necessity of actually comprehending what's been said well enough to write it down in their own words. Some students can simply memorize these purchased notes well enough to get by on the exam, but whether they have learned as much as they would have from taking and studying their own notes is another question.

            Since the notes are for sale, many students see no real need to come to class and object strenuously to my mandatory attendance policy, as in "The attendance policy is upsurd [sic.]. I pay to come here." Yes, you do, but your payment doesn't automatically entitle you to course credit and neither does your ability to memorize somebody else's notes and eke out a "C-"on the exam. Obviously, no instructor can ever test you on the entire content of the course, but receiving credit for the course should at least mean exposure to its content, and clearly that can't happen if you only show up when you feel like it or at exam time.

            I don't mean to suggest here that we at UGA are entirely without responsibility for the woeful gap between how well many of our students should be performing and what they are actually doing. Faculty and administrators alike have been far too hands-off in allowing the vestiges of the old "Nobody wants to party with 'Smarty'" mentality to hang around. [WARNING! PET PEEVE HARANGUE TO FOLLOW:] No one who cares about the University of Georgia's instructional mission should rest until all activities associated with recruitment of students into fraternities and sororities is postponed at least until the second semester. The current practice of holding sorority rush before classes even start and handing out bids on the first day of classes mocks everything we like to say about academics coming first on this campus. Finally, instead of summer orientation pitches like this, our incoming freshmen should be reminded again and again that putting their newfound social freedom ahead of their new responsibilities as college students is the quickest way to ensure that UGA will soon be partying on without them.

 

PS. Based on responses to previous bloviations, I knew you faithful readers would be disappointed if I didn't share a few zingers from a fresh set of evaluations; so here they are, even before you asked:

"Your jokes aren't funny. You get only pity laughs. Work on your delivery!" [This one doesn't sting as much as you'd think. I've been living on "pity laughs" for years.]

            Under "What did you like most about the class:"

"Cobb's outfits always gave me something to laugh about." [This was a big year for sartorial comments. See below.]

"Jim Cobb's belt buckles." [No doubt, this is a reference to my $90 Luckenbach, Texas, model.]

"Dr. Cobb's shoes." [Take that, all of you who disparaged my Sanuks."] 

As you old pros know, I indulge myself with one warm and fuzzy one:

"Hard-nosed and fair, very interesting and engaging.  One of my favorites.  I wish I was his best friend." [Aw shucks.  Forget all that cynical stuff above.  Bring the little darlings on, old Prof. B. can't wait to get the semester underway!]


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